Szczecin, part 2

posted 9 May 2005

Written 4 May 2005

Breakfast at the hotel each morning was a plate of coldcuts (a couple of kinds of ham and/or chicken), two or three slices of buttery cheese or a small wedge of brie, a chunk of butter, a single-serve plastic tub of honey or jam, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers on a leaf of lettuce, and a basket of sliced breads. In addition, one had the choice of coffee or tea and of egg or no egg.

At the appointed hour, usually 8:30 a.m., Teresa would arrive to walk with us to the university—up Wielkopolska as far as the duck pond, take a left on Jednosci Narodowei for a couple of blocks, through the archway under the mayor's office, take a right and continue until you come to Teresa's building. Spring was much more advanced in Szczecin than in Gdynia (maritime rather than continental influences), and rosaceous trees were coming into bloom everywhere. Teresa's department is long overdue for a new building, and to make matters worse, because they will be moving within a year, the administration isn't doing any renovations on the one they're in, which they share with a high school and a large government employment agency. Teresa's group (paleooceanography) and another group share a hallway, which is kept locked at both ends. The double handful of keys to the hallway and the group's offices are checked out each morning from the concierge at the front door of the building and returned each evening by the last to leave. The nearest restrooms are up one flight and down a long corridor. On the other hand, the building is arranged so that the corridors have rooms on only one side. Large windows on the other side flood the halls with light, so everyone has large houseplants—palms and cacti, rubber-tree plants and ferns, orchids and philodendrons are everywhere, on the windowsills and floors. The stairways were decorated with dozens of colorful posters about useful and ornamental plant families, prepared for Earth Day, which fell just a few days before our arrival.

We had lunch each day at the tiny lunch counter at the far end of the building (out the "back" door of the hallway, down two flights and out through the iron gate into high-school territory, about a quarter of a mile along the hallway, past the "stomatology" offices (dentistry, I think) and the employment line, down another flight and around the corner into a cloud of delicious cooking smells). The decor of the place is pretty threadbare, but the home-style cooking is very, very good. The first day, I had crepes thickly spread with chopped cooked mushrooms, rolled, egged and crumbed, and fried until crisp. The second, I had the handmade meat pierogi, and the third I ordered the flaki, which made Teresa shudder, but was excellent—thicker and tastier than the version at the roadside restaurant. David had the red borscht with meat dumplings twice. He said the borscht wasn't as good as at the institute in Gdynia but that the dumplings were better.

My only complaint about Polish food is the bottled water. Many restaurants wouldn't serve ordinary tap water (which tasted just fine, everywhere we went) in a pitcher, so I had to order the bottled stuff, specifying "still." It came only in small bottles, and it was invariably full of CO2—not enough to make it fizzy but enough to make it taste distinctly sour. This is probably a selling point in Poland, land of sour soups, tangy marinated salads, and widely varied pickles, but I'm afraid I prefer water that just tastes like water.

David and I were accorded space in the office of a colleague of Teresa's. David's talk was scheduled for Tuesday morning, and my two four-hour sessions for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons and Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, Teresa managed to borrow a tube of "Kropelka," the Polish equivalent of superglue. I tried gluing the leg back onto the tripod, but it fell off again immediately. I did, however, manage to glue the knob back on well enough to get the tripod folded. Whew. I would be able to get it onto the plane, and we'd have time in Brest to sort out a more lasting repair.

The grammar sessions didn't go as well in Szczecin as in Gdynia, first because 8 hours really wasn't enough to cover all the material and second because schedules were such that only a few people were able to attend even three of the four. Two groups of undergraduates were able to attend only one session each, so continuity was a problem. I did manage to put in some extra time, outside the scheduled sessions, to do some demo editing for a small group of faculty and grad students.

Each evening, Teresa took us to a different local retaurant. The first was "Grand Cru," located in the old prince's palace (now a cultural center and concert venue) (delicious "basa" fish with spinach and blue cheese). Second, we tried a trendy new "club" restaurant (particularly good Greek-style salad). Third, we went, with a group of faculty, to "Christopher Columbus," one of a pair of restaurants recently opened by a local entrepreneur at opposite ends of a handsome promenade overlooking the River Oder (the other is called "Colorado"). It's basically a fern bar in design and concept, but the dark wood construction (probably real antique ships' timbers salvaged from an old vessel) and brass nautical fittings were a lot more authentic than we would see in the states, and the menu (although it included a few fern-bar standards like stuffed potato skins and fajitas) was much broader. The "Columbus" decor was everywhere—a portrait of Chris himself overlooked our table, at one point the stern of a small sailing ship protrudes into the room, and the bottle of house wine on every table says "vintage 1492." On the last night, we went to a restaurant right next door to our hotel, in another old mansion, and it was probably the best of the lot. David's veal was outstanding. On our way out, we passed the chef taking a break outside the kitchen door, and Teresa translated our compliments.

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